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Going Back To Things

by David Westheimer


Some years ago in a Peanuts comic strip a little boy told Charlie Brown, "Last year my grandpa went to his high school reunion and this year he went to his college reunion and he's going to his Army reunion next month. My grandpa has a new hobby. He goes back to things."

It struck a chord with me because I shared that hobby. I went back to things. And one of those reunions still shines in my memory these many years later. I even wrote a poem about it. Well, sort of a poem. And here it is:

Lagerfeldwebel Glemnitz,
South Compound's Sergeant Major,
Is in our barracks
On a surprise nighttime roll call.
He sees my water bottle hanging
From a bunkpost.
I'd made it in Sulmona
From a scrapheap wine bottle,
Wool sock, tin can bottom
And a length of webbing.
Sgt. Glemnitz says,
"I'm not on a search now
But I will come back one day
And take that bottle."
Water bottles are not permitted
Because they are useful in escapes.
So I hide it in the wall behind the beaverboard.
And in a few days Sgt. Glemnitz
Comes back and finds it.
Next time I face Sgt. Glemnitz
Is in a broad field outside the wire
At Stalag VIIA.
Maxie and I have come from
Trading soap and Red Cross toothbrushes
For jam and potatoes
With the Mother Superior
At a convent.
Sgt. Glemnitz is crossing the field
In the other direction.
We stop to chat.
Sgt. Glemnitz says,
"Soon you will be free
And I will be the prisoner of war."
I offer him a pack of cigarettes,
Like gold at this time and place.
He refuses it.
Sgt. Glemnitz says,
"Remember that I am the German
Who would not take your cigarettes."
When I see him again
We are civilians.
The ex-POW association
Has brought him to Colorado
For our annual reunion.
I say to him,
"Sgt. Glemnitz, you once refused my cigarettes.
Will you take my cigar now?"
Sgt. Glemnitz says, "Yes," smiling.
I give him a cigar and an embrace.
He keeps the cigar but returns the embrace.
The war is officially over.


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